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Every time you turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or magazine to read, there is another story about the latest pending global disaster. Often based on current research, these stories speculate on global warming, decreasing ozone, too much ozone, increasing levels of ultraviolet light, acid rain, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, decreasing water quality and the effect of increasing human population. All these stories create such a jumble of information that the scientific knowledge can get lost. Only one life form is capable of making complex conscious decisions: humans. As human societies evolved, so did ethics and values, dimensions that helped shape human behavior To understand the potential impact of scientific ideas, it is necessary to examine how these dimensions arouse and what role they play in making decisions about applications of scientific knowledge.

Ethics arose as a result of the appearance of human personal and social self-consciousness, when humans found they had to make conscious choices of action in a social context. Modern ethical codes evolved from the survival-oriented rules that applied to the individual. The rules were extended to deal with the family and then the tribe. In many cases, elaborate rules governed relationships between members of the same tribe; however, if a member of another tribe was encountered, the rules did not apply. The extension of ethical principles to larger groupings continued as civilizations developed.

It would be nice to have an ethical method comparable to the scientific method. Despite the differences between them, scientific and ethical beliefs are frequently interwoven, for ethical beliefs are required in making of moral (value-laden) decisions about the application of scientific (value-free) knowledge. The graphic below suggests a relationship between science problem solving cycle and social problem-solving cycle.

This relationships suggest an ongoing process where each cycle drives the other. In this relationship, decisions are based on knowledge. For example, if we believe our research has produced something of significance, something that has social value, our report should state our value claims as well as our knowledge. We should, of course, be explicit in making a distinction between the two cycles. The social value usually derive from knowledge claims but they are determined by a social group and are not the same thing.

    "The practice of science supposes the existence of a real and a common world, and assumes that its impact on each individual who is part of it is modified by him in a way which constitutes his/her personal experience. We do not construct the world from our experiences; we are aware of the world in our experiences. Science is a language for talking not about experience but about the world."

Values are determined by social groups. Decisions about whether to commit resources to a an issue involve a reasoning process used often in day to day living. When considering whether to proceed with a proposed action, a person tries to figure out what potential benefits might result from the action and what potential risks are involved. This technique, which is known as benefit/risk analysis, considers what can be gained and what can be lost if an action is taken.

Value claims are useful to begin discussion under classical and personal values in the cycle above. These should take the form of reflections and begin the brainstorming for possible social solutions to social problems. Within PathFinder Science, this discussion takes place in the discussion forum. Discussions continue at the annual research forum where an action plan is generated. This action plan is implemented and evaluated over the course of the next year.

It is easy, facing this jumbled mess of information to have a dark view of the future. People tend to be problem-solvers who want to fix things. In this case we cannot help but wonder, what can one person do to fix these overwhelming, difficult, global issues? Faced with such problems many people have chosen to become environmental activists. Starting with the original Earth Day in 1970, they look to social action to cause change in the way human beings behave toward the planet. After all, who does not want clean water and clean air? The Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act were passed and the Environmental Protection Agency was founded. Looking back we realize that while this activism was very important, it is not enough as we approach global issues. It is necessary to take a step beyond being an activist and become a decision-maker. A decision-maker collects information, analyzes that information and then develops an action plan based on that information.

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